A car known for its youth appeal, the Jetta has taken a more mature turn with the redesigned fifth-general iteration. Gone is the Teutonic styling, once elegant in its stark, purposeful appearance, replaced by a more staid, Japanese-influenced design.
That slippery sheetmetal skins a larger, roomier sedan with more power, chassis sophistication, and refinement than its predecessors, making it a fitting tribute to celebrate the nameplate’s 25th anniversary in the United States. The new Jetta launched in March 2005 with a 2.5-liter/150-horse five-cylinder engine mated either to a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission in Value Edition and 2.5 models. The I-5 was later joined by an available turbodiesel, and eventually a 200-horse turbo I-4 in the sporty GLI model. Engineered as an enthusiast’s car, this is the first Jetta with an independent rear suspension, providing improved ride and handling. Fun is balanced with responsibility, as the Jetta has a lengthy roster of passive safety equipment.
Where the old Jetta looked like a baby BMW, the new one looks like an overgrown Toyota Corolla dressed in papa Passat’s clothes. The most distinctive feature is the new-generation Volkswagen chromed grille surround, destined to shape the front of future VW models. A tasteful beltline runs the sedan’s length, with blistered wheel arches and chrome window trim conveying sophistication. Based on the latest “A” platform, shared with the all-new Golf V, the Jetta has grown 7 inches in bumper-to-bumper length, for a total of 179.3, and it rides on a 2.6-inch longer wheelbase, at 101.5 inches. True to the name, Value Edition models are fitted with wimpy-looking, 15-inch steel wheels (appealing to buyers likely to upgrade to aftermarket wheels), while 1.9 TDI and 2.5 models have 16-inch wheels and tires. The cars look more imposing, though, on the optional, dealer-installed 17-inch aluminum wheels.
The larger shell and lengthened wheelbase allow for a more voluminous interior, addressing a previous-generation weakness. Front-seat passengers enjoy 38.5 inches of headroom and 41.2 inches of legroom, while rear riders get 37.2 and 35.4, respectively. In back, that’s nearly an inch more legroom than in the previous model. The EPA classifies the Jetta as a compact, with 91 cubic feet of interior room and 16 cubic feet of trunk space. The exterior and interior dimensions are near-matches for those of the Toyota Corolla, though the Jetta has notably greater trunk space. Interior fits, materials, and finishes are first rate, more redolent of a luxury model than a compact, relatively affordable car. The design is very attractive, too, with lots of chrome and available wood trim.
Standard equipment is relatively generous, with a three-spoke steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, eight-way seat adjustment, and a 10-speaker radio/CD player. Other features include power mirrors, a split folding rear seat, and a two-way adjustable steering wheel.
Climatronic automatic air conditioning is standard on the 2.5 and TDI, along with heated front seats. Four-way power lumbar support, leather seating surfaces, and ash wood trim are optional. If you’re prepared to check all the options boxes, a Jetta can be made very luxurious—but the price quickly crosses that of the Jetta’s decidedly more upscale platform-mate, the Audi A3.
The Jetta boasts a comprehensive array of standard safety features, exceeding expectations for its market segment. There are six airbags—front, side, and full-length curtain—as well as crash-active front headrests, which automatically tilt forward in the event of a collision. The Jetta also comes with standard anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and traction control, while an electronic stability-control system is optional on the Value Edition and standard on the GLI, TDI, and 2.5.
The base Jetta is sold with a new, 20-valve, 2.5-liter, five-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 150 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque, a significant step forward from the 2.0-liter/115-horse I-4 that had long provided base power for the previous Jetta. The new model comes with a five-speed stick as standard, but a six-speed Tiptronic transmission (an automatic with clutchless manual shifting- DSG) is optional. Having carved a niche with its diesel offerings, Volkswagen continues to offer a 1.9-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel good for 100 horsepower and a usable 177 lb-ft of torque, produced at very low revs. With the current high gas prices, the TDI’s combination of low-speed pulling power and excellent fuel economy makes it an interesting option. The diesel engine is mated to a five-speed manual transmission or VW’s twin-clutch “DSG” six-speed gearbox, which operates either as an automatic or can be shifted manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddles. A sporty GLI variant will join the range midyear, boasting a 2.0-liter/200-horse turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine.
Behind The Wheel
With an adjustable steering wheel and eight-way driver’s seat, it’s easy to get comfortable in the Jetta. All major controls are readily accessible, and everything feels very high quality. The sport steering wheel feels good, too, and it comes standard with controls for the cruise and audio systems.
The base 2.5-liter engine is a touch anemic, and its noise is intrusive when you’re running it hard. It’s no surprise this engine must work hard in the new Jetta, since the car not only weighs more than a like-sized Corolla, but also slightly more than the midsize Toyota Camry . Official VW performance estimates put 0-to-60-mph times with the 2.5L and automatic at a leisurely 9.1 seconds. Both the manual and automatic transmissions are slick and fun to use. The diesel engine is pleasantly surprising in this application, offering ample low-speed passing power and welcomed refinement. The DSG transmission is the best of both worlds, combining smooth automatic shifts and lightning-quick “manual” gear changes.
The GLI version will be the enthusiasts’ choice, with a powerful and responsive turbo four that hooks up nicely with both transmissions. It’s pretty fleet, too, with a reported 0-to-60-mph time below 7.0 seconds.
All Jettas have fully independent suspension, with a new multi-link rear-end and struts at the front. Ride quality is excellent, and the handling is both entertaining and sure-footed. The Jetta has a new electro-mechanical power steering system that’s supremely accurate, but lacks appropriate feedback to the driver. The GLI dynamic personality is even better, with a sport-tuned suspension that sharpens the handling while trading off little in ride comfort. The anti-lock braking system works really well, with exemplary straight-line stability, though initial pedal response is a little soft.
Although the Jetta doesn’t look sporty, it’s far more entertaining to drive than its nearest Japanese rivals, aside from the Mazda3. It also feels very solid and more expensive than most of its main competition—which, in fact, it is.
Volkswagen offers rather generous warranties akin to those from the luxury marques, such as Audi and Lexus. The Jetta comes with a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, along with four-year/50,000-mile coverage for all other parts of the vehicle, and four-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance.
More luxurious and larger than the four prior generations, the new Volkswagen Jetta packs enough upscale features to appeal to upwardly mobile Golf and Jetta owners, while drawing new buyers into the fold.